The future of creative learning is here

Gail Proffitt, Louisa County School Board member, examines a human heart using augmented reality software at the middle school's Creation Station.

How many of us remember when being creative in school meant cutting snowflakes from folded paper and making 3-D designs with old boxes, cans and paper towel tubes?  

Louisa County Public Schools students are exposed to much more advanced methods of creating, using rapidly changing technology in the process. Children as young as kindergarten age are being introduced to a variety of creative processes in their STEAM labs – classrooms specializing in teaching Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics across the spectrum.

When students reach the high school level there are numerous options for them to explore in career and technical education classes as well as dual enrollment programs.

“Children coming up from the elementary school level have had lots of exposure to technology, but when they reached the middle school, there wasn’t something similar for them,” Ken Bouwens, STEAM director at Louisa County Middle School, said. “Our superintendent, Doug Straley, recognized the gap and encouraged us to find a way to close it.”

Bouwens met with Todd Weidow, LCMS principal, and Rebecca Baughman, LCMS librarian, about suitable available space. The committee decided the library would be an optimal central location and would fit in with the concept of research and study.  

“I was all for it,” Baughman said. “We were examining our layout and purging some of our non-fiction books, so we had the space.”

Baughman said that how children conduct research these days has changed dramatically and they use the internet and search engines for information instead of reaching for encyclopedias and other reference books.

“We could use that available space for innovative learning,” she said.

The next question was – what do we put in it, she said.

The group visited numerous schools with similar spaces. They looked at the technology available and considered what the instructional staff would be interested in integrating into their classrooms.

The vision for the Creation Station at LCMS is similar to how students already come into the library before school and during lunch to read, do puzzles and play games. Now they can also come to the Creation Station lab.  

But, just what can students do in the lab?

“The teachers can use it for resources they don’t have available in the classrooms. They can develop small group projects for the students,” Baughman said.  “Students can come in and create a variety of things. Instead of a written book report, they could record their report using our green screen and editing equipment, they can compose music and edit the same way. Or, maybe they create a 3-D image from the book using our 3-D printers.”

Other options are to learn embroidery and sewing using the machines, use virtual reality glasses individually or as an entire class, building with Legos and laser cutting leather, wood and other materials.

“There will be things for everybody to use and our goal is to expose the students to as many different types of technology as possible and hopefully they will find something that sparks their interests,” Bouwens said.

Bouwens said middle school is the toughest three years of school for students. They aren’t really children any more, but they aren’t quite teenagers either.

“We want to keep them interested in the learning process and help them find something that sparks their interests for their high school years and beyond,” he said.  “We want to open them up to the possibilities for future careers and allow them to think out of the box in a safe environment.”

Designing the Creation Station was a large joint project for the school that involved the school board, superintendent, technology and maintenance department staff.

“It’s all been worth it. The teachers are so excited to get in and use the equipment and are already thinking of ways they can incorporate the space into their classrooms and curriculum,” Baughman said.  

With the addition of a second full-time librarian, there will always be supervision for the students, who, along with the teachers, will have to pass safety and skills tests in order to use the equipment.

“We will train the teachers and students on each facet and they will then have to demonstrate the ability to correctly use it to be ‘badged,’ certified to use it independently,” Baughman said.

Weidow said Creation Station will be a continuum of the middle school’s educational environment.

“Previously, our STEAM activities occurred in the classrooms and limited what we could do with them,” he said. “This opens us up to a whole new level.”

The goal is to reach and engage every student, Weidow added. With the onset of the one-on-one concept and the additional technology use being promoted at the middle school, he sees this as a natural fit, just one more step in equipping the students for the future.

“We want to engage our students and make sure they are prepared, even giving them an edge over other students,” he said.

Kate Straley and Baughman visited Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond to see what they offer in their coursework and realized that what is going to be available at Louisa County Middle School mirrors what is available at the collegiate level.

Bouwens said they will encourage students to take advantage of every opportunity that is offered.

“Once our students graduate, they many never have access to all this technology in one place again,” Bouwens said. “They may specialize in one area, but to have the opportunity to experience the variety of technology within one setting is unique. ”

The middle school celebrated Creation Station with a ribbon cutting ceremony during the school’s open house on Aug. 5 and students and parents had the opportunity to tour the facility.